Lindblad Expeditions / National Geographic
EXPLORATIONS – A Lindblad Expeditions Blog

South Pacific

Expedition Recon: Looking Back & Moving Forward

Sven-Olof Lindblad is wrapping up his team’s South Pacific reconnaissance trip that has found never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. Here’s a look at just a few expedition highlights.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

We spent an afternoon at lovely Toau’s North Pass where corals of vibrant colors can be seen in shallow water.

Photo Vincent Truchet

Our team discovered a site in the shallows where we can snorkel with these rays off Moorea. We’ll return here on our Isles, Atolls, and Pristine Corals: Southern Line Islands expedition.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Shallow channels move water quickly through an area we found just off Hauhine, where the nutrients feed a variety of life. The best way to explore it is by drifting along in our snorkeling gear, our cameras ever-ready for shots like this. We’ll return here on our French Polynesia: Beyond the Postcard expedition.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Shark dives off Fakarava proved to be a highlight. Our CEO Sven Lindblad said, “It’s wonderful to see the change in people who at some point were afraid of sharks and now feel totally comfortable amongst them. That’s evolution.”

A warm welcome on Raiatea, were greeted at sea by ceremony and invited onto the island by hundreds of community members, welcomed with hula, prayer, and some with kava.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Going ashore at Fakarava. We look forward to returning to this gem of the Pacific on our Easter Island to Tahiti: Tales of the Pacific expedition.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Another dive site at Fakarava’s North Pass proved to offer splendid diving and snorkeling.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Our CEO Sven Lindblad sneaks intp a shot of a curious local at Toau North Pass. After diving among enormous coral heads we had lunch on the beach.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

At Toau’s West Pass this nine-foot manta circled coming within feet of our heads for over 20 minutes. Journalist Chris Jones wrote about his experience.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Strolling along the beach of idyllic Rangiroa, which we’ll return to on our French Polynesia: Beyond the Postcard expedition in 2018.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Time at sea was spent sorting photos, enjoying some fine meals and companyand of course spectacular sunsets like this one. And so our recon expedition winds to an end. We hope to share some of these incredible places and experiences with you on our 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions.

Expedition Recon: Rangiroa’s Incredible Lagoon

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions.

Sven in the blue lagoon of Rangiroa with baby sharks. Photo Kristin Hettermann.

The isle of Rangiroa’s lagoon is so massive that the island of Tahiti could fit inside of it. This protected space serves as a vast nursery for sharks and large schools of fish.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

A mullet swims past Sven’s camera.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Black-tip sharks in Rangiroa’s lagoon.

Photo Vincent Truchet.

A nine-foot dolphin came to get a look at our recon team and, apparently deciding we were a fun bunch, decided to hangout and swim with us for 20 minutes.

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Expedition Recon: Makatea History & Wildlife

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

The view from Makatea, French Polynesia.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Our team met with the Mayor of Makatea who led us to some sites on the island in planning for our upcoming South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. We’re eager to take our guests off the beaten path and we can do so by forming meaningful relationships in the places we explore. The mayor shared some of the island’s history, which includes a phosphate mine started in the early 1900s and was abandoned nearly overnight in 1964. At its peak the island was a hub of activity with hundreds of miners digging cylindrical holes about eight feet wide and 75 feet deep to extract phosphate.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Meet the coconut crab, weighing up to nine pounds and measuring up to three feet leg-to-leg it is the world’s largest land-living arthropod. Our team spotted some in French Polynesia. What do coconut crabs eat? Why coconuts, of course. “Coconut Crabs are big and highly prized selling for 30 plus dollars each. Nocturnal, locals bait them with cracked coconuts and then catch them while feeding with great care as those claws can easily take off a finger.” —Sven-Olof Lindblad.

 

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Meeting some of the next generation on Raiatea.

Expedition Recon: Magic with a Manta Ray

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. Joining him is journalist Chris Jones.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

By Chris Jones

Sven and Vincent, one of our dive masters, came back to the boat raving: They had just spent twenty minutes in the water with a manta ray. “That was maybe my most magical experience in the ocean,” Sven said. I wanted to puke.

I’d been snorkelling above them off Toau’s western shore during our mission to French Polynesia. There hadn’t been much to see, and I’d gone back to the boat. Then I’d missed the manta. I’ve wanted to swim with a manta since I started diving more than 25 years ago. To come that close… I tried to be happy for my friends, but if I’m being honest, it was pretty hard to take.

Vincent knew I was upset, and he saw a teaching moment in front of him. A few years ago, he had gone diving with a friend day after day, and one day the friend had reached his limit. He decided not to go out. Vincent did, and he spent the afternoon diving with three humpback whales. “After that, I decide never to miss a dive in French Polynesia,” he said. “Lesson learned.”

We prepared to dive in the same spot that afternoon. Mélo, our other dive master, told me not to get my hopes up. Just because there was a manta there in the morning didn’t mean there would be one there in the afternoon. The wild doesn’t work like a zoo.

We dropped down to the bottom and began swimming along the dropoff. Mélo was to my left. She stopped and turned her head and then began flapping her arms like wings. She was making the sign for a manta. My first thought was, That is one sick joke. Then I saw our own manta coming into view, flying over the edge of the deep blue and, later, just a few inches over my head. She was seven feet across. She covered me in shadow. Sven was right: It was maybe my most magical experience in the ocean.

Vincent was also right: Lesson learned.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Expedition Recon: Vincent Truchet, Undersea Photographer

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. Joining him is acclaimed underwater photographer Vincent Truchet.

Meet Vincent Truchet

These are some of Vincent’s shots from night dives, drift snorkeling, and reef exploration. See more photos on Vincent’s website and follow him in Instagram. One of his favorite subjects is sharks, which can be found in abundance in these healthy reef ecosystems.

Photo by Vincent Truchet

Photo by Vincent Truchet

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Expedition Recon: Palm Isles of Fakarava & Night Dives

Update from Sven-Olof Lindblad, who is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions.

The black tips are still cruising our stern, the breeze is cool and the sunrise perfect. Part of me wishes we could stay here all week.

We pack up gear, lather on sun lotion, and head out to explore the motu, islets of sand and palms.

Photo Justin DeShields

The morning incoming tide starts at 11:30, bringing clear water into the South Pass. Everything here revolves around the tide. The flats around the motu are very shallow. They surround the islands with an incredible blue which feeds into our fantasy of Polynesia. “Be careful of standing under coconut trees,” our dive masters tell us. “I know, as once I was resting under one in the Seychelles and a huge one fell beside me. Lesson learned.”

We see a huge flock of white-capped noddies diving into the deeper water, which is so clear we can see their prey. It’s a dramatic sight as the sea boils with small fish driven to the surface by large trevalli.

Photo Kristin Hettermann

We head back to our boat to catch the incoming tide. This time we dive the outer wall and drift back into the lagoon. It’s a stunning site. Beautiful coral that the locals refer to as roses covers the bottom at 30 meters and then just falls off to hundreds of meters. It’s a deep, haunting blue and dozens of sharks—grey reef, silver tip, and coral—cruise this divide. We begin to drift into the channel, picking up speed. It’s magical, no effort needed. Fish everywhere, a reef that is so healthy that you get a feeling that all’s good in the ocean.

I wish I could just stay here for hours, but we are limited, requiring clumsy gear to be in this ocean realm, and, of course, air, 45 minutes at a time.

Photo Justin DeShields

We all finish the dive elated. A quick turn around and off to snorkel in the shallows. I’m convinced this is the best spot I’ve ever snorkeled in my life. A gentle drop off, almost total coral cover, all kinds of fish, Napoleon Wrasse, goatfish, paddletail snapper, angelfish and more. And always, the lab-like black tips cruising the shallows. The setting sun is spectacular, and for most the day would be done. For us, there is one more adventure.

Photo Vincent Truchet

There are at least 30 sharks cruising our stern. Vincent and Melo, our dive masters, brief us. “Diving with sharks at night is different,” they say. “They are hunting now and their behavior is very different. Of course they are not interested in us but nevertheless it is important to be aware.” We suit up and the adrenaline begins to pump as strongly as the current. “Keep your bodies tight,” says Vincent. “And let’s all stay together.”

Photo Justin DeShields

Down we go into the black. The boat’s underwater lights provide an eerie glow. Sharks dart in and out of the light with purpose. We sit on the bottom and look up. After a bit Vincent feels comfortable enough to move up into the water column. We are now surrounded by hunting sharks. It’s crazy, exciting, and beautiful. I’m somehow totally calm and happy to be in their realm right after lunch. We get back on the boat and the conversation over dinner was abuzz over accounts of our most spectacular day.

— Sven-Olof Lindblad

Expedition Recon: Fakarava South Pass

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. Explore this site, Fakarava, on our upcoming expedition Easter Island to Tahiti: Tales of the Pacific

Photo Vincent Truchet

There are more sharks than people in Fakarava. There are so many of them—black tips, silver tips, grey reefs, corals—they can blur the line between animal and architecture. The second day of Lindblad Expeditions’ research mission to French Polynesia began with an incredible dive outside the atoll’s southern pass. There were enough sharks stacked on top of each other between the lagoon and the ocean, they looked almost like a wall.

Countless other species call the pass home. Eagle rays fly against the current. Groupers sometimes school there. Barracuda and tuna shine in the light streaming through the turquoise water. A Napoleon wrasse, nearly a meter long, nosed in and out of the pristine coral.

Photo Vincent Truchet

But the sharks are the main attraction. The strange thing about diving with sharks—once you stop shouting “That’s a shark!” every time you see one—is how unmistakable they are. Even from a distance, even if all you catch of one is its silhouette out of the corner of your eye, the way they look, the way they don’t move through the water so much as they own it: That’s a shark.

Photo Vincent Truchet

And when there are so many of them, the experience is close to overwhelming. Because sharks have suffered for years from their outsized reputation for aggression, fear, at least a little of it, might crackle through the water. It takes only a few minutes for that fear to subside and turn into wonder. You realize that you might be looking at hundreds of sharks at once, but none of them is looking at you. You’re just one more fish in the sea, swimming between corals into the calm of the lagoon. You just happen to be swimming there together.

Chris Jones

Expedition Recon: Fakarava & Shark Paradise

Update from Sven-Olof Lindblad, who is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

We entered the northern pass at Fakarava this morning at sunrise. It wasn’t the beauty of sunrise that heralded the day but the calm waters after 36 hours of banging our way east into the swell of the trades. It was a big relief for all and as soon as we dropped anchor in the south pass it became clear the next two days would be action packed. We instantly became surrounded by black-tipped reef sharks investigating the newcomers in the hope of getting an easy meal. The mood aboard was intense as we prepared for our first dive.

The current would begin to enter the lagoon at 10:10 brining in clear water. The dive in the pass is world famous and ours certainly did not disappoint. As soon as we entered the water and for the next 45 minutes we were surrounded by grey reef sharks. They ride the current and behave almost like labs, absolutely nothing to fear here. We went again in the afternoon and then later hung in the shallows with the black tips. This is shark heaven for the snorkels, the diver, and even for those who just want to watch from shore.

Fakarava is indeed a slice of paradise.

Sven-Olof Lindblad

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Sven-Olof Lindblad surveys coral debris left from a recent storm on Fakarava.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Expedition Recon: Exploring Huahine

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. Follow along for an inside look at the thought, planning, and passion that goes into creating Lindblad itineraries. Follow Sven on Instagram. 

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Our recon team arrived at Huahine, part of the Society Islands of French Polynesia. It’s known for superb, healthy reefs near shore and dense, thriving jungles inland.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

We sailed past canoes paddled by local fishermen as we made our way to explore one landing site.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Our team found a site where we may be able to offer guests on our French Polynesia: Beyond the Postcard expedition a chance to drift snorkel.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Floating in a current that feeds nutrients to a variety of sea life we were afforded the opportunity to see a thriving ecosystem. Clear seas and bright sunshine make for ideal conditions.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Colors of undersea life are brightest and most vibrant near the surface where the light is best. This site will offer our snorkelers a fantastic place to see and photograph the undersea.

 

Expedition Recon: Snorkeling with Rays & Sharks

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. Follow along for an inside look at the thought, planning and passion that goes into creating Lindblad itineraries. Follow Sven on Instagram

Photo Vincent Truchet

Just off the tiny isle of Moorea, which we’ll explore on our Isles, Atolls, and Pristine Corals: Southern Line Islands expedition in 2018, our recon team discovered a splendid place for our guests to snorkel with schools of rays and sharks.

Photo Justin DeShields

No need to be scuba proficient to swim with these sharks and rays. Our recon videographer Justin DeShields captures some of the schooling action with a drone.

Photo Kristin Hettermann

 

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